Richard Carrier on Being Agnostic or Atheist.

What word bests describes what you believe? Daniel Dennett suggests we adopt the term "non-believer," since the word "atheist" has a lot of negative baggage around it. Jeffery Jay Lowder thinks a theist can be a freethinker. In a recent blog entry Richard Carrier argues that "all unbelievers are both atheists and agnostics, and neither can deny either name. They can never be separated. Though these categories aren't synonymous, you still can't sort unbelievers into 'atheists' and 'agnostics' any more than you can sort them into 'persons' and 'people.'"

What do you think?

37 comments:

Benny said...

I see no reason to adopt the term "non-believer" in lieu of "atheist". If "atheist" has a lot of negative baggage, it's only for the same reason "liberal" has come to take on negative baggage: people who don't understand the meaning of the terms. I see no reason to concede ground to ignorance.

Lynda said...

In my Webster's dictionary atheism is defined as "belief in the non-existence of god". With this definition "non-believer" would not appropriately fit since one may believe that god does not exist.
I agree with Jeffrey Lawder that "freethinker" does not give due credit to those who have critically analyzed and logically reasoned through their beliefs and still have concluded that a god exists. The conclusion may be one with which I cannot agree, but I cannot get inside their heads to dispute the freedom with which they have approached the issue.
"Non-religious" is probably the term I prefer since it more accurately indicates that I do not accept any of the present versions of god described by religions, yet it leaves the door open for any possible evidence that may arise to support the existence of a god. I do, however, use "atheist" to describe myself if I feel the audience has not heaped too much garbage on top of a simple definition.

Godless Geek said...

In my mind, non-believer=atheist, and I don't have a problem with being called either. As for the negative baggage, that's a symptom of deeper societal issues which need to be addressed, and a terminology change will only ignore the deeper problem.

I'm not sure how any theist can be a true freethinker. Theism limits ones freedom to think for themselves in some very key areas, so their minds can never be truly free. I also think that there are atheists who are not necessarily skeptics, and therefore, also allow their minds to be enslaved by certain things and can't be call freethinkers.

I'll also take issue with the statement that all non-believers are both atheists and agnostics. By the strictest definition, it's true that I can't know with 100% certainty that there are no gods, but I feel a 99.99999999%+ certainty, so I don't really feel that the agnostic label is appropriate for me.

I do, however, think that the majority of people who call themselves agnostic do so either out of ignorance of the practical definition of atheism (by not realizing they are really an agnostic atheist), or out of fear of being ostracized for using the term atheist.

To address the original question in summation, I don't have a problem with atheist or non-believer, but I think freethinker and agnostic are situational terms that aren't necessarily applicable for everyone.

Jason Hatherly said...

Call yourself what is appropriate, but be cognizant of alternative usages of certain labels and ensure that your audience understands the version that applies to you. I share what seems to be Carrier's sentiment that the debate over the labels is given too much weight. It really shouldn't matter this much.

Sandalstraps said...

A term I've read a lot in more academic literature is non-theists, which I take to include both those who are traditionally called agnostics and those who are traditionally called atheists. I'm not sure I like it, because it, like both "agnostic" (a and gnosis; a negative prefix in front of a word for "knowledge") and "atheist" (a and theus; a negative prefix in front of a word for "god") defines the group in an entirely negative way. That is, the group is defined by their negation, their rejection, of something that is considered to be more normative.

It seems like a way of defining something by what it is not instead of by what it is, which I don't think is entirely fair to the group wearing the label.

Similarly, I find the term "freethinker" dissatisfactory because, with Lowder, I think that it does not apply to either

a.) all non theists, or

b.) no theists.

That is, the presense or absense of belief in a god or gods does not determine the extent to which one can be said to think freely.

That said, at least the term "free thinker" is a positive one.

Thus far, then, I have not seen a single suitable term for those who do not share my belief in a god or gods, in that there is not a positive term which is simultaneously sufficiently broad enough to cover all who reject god-concepts while also being narrow enough to exclude all those who do affirm some concept of a god or gods; and there is also no suitable term that defines the entire group of those who do not have any religious belief system in positive rather than negative terms.

Alas, I lack the creativity or ingenuity to coin a new term here and now, so I suppose we'll all have to continue to use inadequate terminology. Language is an artifical construct for social convenience, anyway!

Anonymous said...

John,
I just found your blog after googling your name when I saw your book on amazon.com. I'm wondering if there is anyway I could get your email. I understand if you don't give it out. It's just that I noticed you're from Indiana and I live in Fort Wayne. I'm 28 and just beginning my journey of detoxing from a very destructive christian upbringing. My husband was a pastor for about the last 10 years and we left the church about a year ago. We both have so many thoughts, questions, etc. and would love someone to talk to. Thanks.

John W. Loftus said...

I personally like the term "naturalist," except that it is already taken. ;-)

Shygetz said...

I do, however, think that the majority of people who call themselves agnostic do so either out of ignorance of the practical definition of atheism (by not realizing they are really an agnostic atheist), or out of fear of being ostracized for using the term atheist.

I think that statement is at least half incorrect and incredibly patronizing to those who consider themselves agnostic; one could say that people who call themselves atheists do so out of ignorance by not realizing they are really an agnostic atheist. Why should the adjective "atheist" be considered the de facto root term for a weak agnostic/weak atheist (one who neither believes in the existence or non-existence of gods, but who claims no knowledge in the light of insufficient evidence and therefore follows no religious practice)? As previously pointed out, the atheist and agnostic sets are not completely commingled.

I have no problem with calling us non-believers--I know that language has power, and I really don't feel the need to fight both against the currect predjudice against atheists and the historical negative connotations of the "atheist" label. However, I do think that the current predjudice in the US is still strong enough that a name change won't do much good now. I agree with sandalstraps that freethinker both gives the atheist community too much credit, and the religious community (notably the deist and Unitarian communities) too little. I personally like the term "rationalist" for weak atheists/weak agnostics--I will believe anything for which I have sufficient evidence, and will resist belief in things for which there is insufficient evidence.

RebelSnake said...

It doesn't really matter what name you choose to refer to yourself. We'll still be blasted as unbeLIEvers.

Lynda said...

Another couple of labels that are sometimes used by atheists are "humanist" and "secularist". These two avoid the suggestion that a state of belief in god is or should be the norm.

David Ellis said...

Personally, I have no problem with calling myself an atheist. Sometimes on internet discussions I encounter christians who wish to insist that only strong atheism of the most extreme sort is legitimately called atheism.

My response is "fine, call me a nontheist then".

Of course, atheism only describes what one thing I DONT believe in and its no more central to my identity than being a nonmuslim is.

Most importantly I am a rationalist, skeptic, humanist and transhumanist. They identify the things I stand for.

Benny said...

Only loosely on-topic, if at all, but the following on-going exchange between Andrew Sullivan and Sam Harris features some of the finest advocacy of faith and atheism that I've ever read:

http://www.beliefnet.com/story/209/story_20904_1.html

Godless Geek said...

I think that statement is at least half incorrect and incredibly patronizing to those who consider themselves agnostic; one could say that people who call themselves atheists do so out of ignorance by not realizing they are really an agnostic atheist. Why should the adjective "atheist" be considered the de facto root term for a weak agnostic/weak atheist (one who neither believes in the existence or non-existence of gods, but who claims no knowledge in the light of insufficient evidence and therefore follows no religious practice)? As previously pointed out, the atheist and agnostic sets are not completely commingled.

No, they aren't completely co-mingled. I took that very side in a discussion with a friend today. Gnosticism/agnosticism is about knowledge, and theism/atheism is about religion. One can be an agnostic theist, and actually, I argue this is the most common position for people to have. Any believer that has doubts fits into this category. I'd even go so far as to argue that a fully gnostic theist is a rare individual. My point was that the common definition of agnostic, was actually the definition of agnostic atheist, though I may not have stated it clearly enough. I apologize if I offended.

Really, it's hard to discuss agnosticism without qualification, because of the very confusion amongst the populace about exactly what it is. It sounds like what you are talking about is probably weak agnosticism, or possibly ignosticism.

Shygetz said...

No apologies necessary. I think it is also misleading to speak about atheism without qualification. As was mentioned previously, many people unfamiliar with atheism thinks that the term refers exclusively to rarer strong atheism (the affirmative belief that gods do not exist). As far as I can tell, weak agnosticism and weak atheism are interchangable, but again, strong agnosticism is something else entirely (the belief that knowledge about gods is impossible for humans). The reason I label myself an agnostic instead of an atheist in most crowds is because those unfamiliar with the philosophy tend to equate the word "atheist" with strong atheism (as you and others alluded to), and then demand that I prove there is no god; on the other hand, those who know the word "agnostic" tend to equate it with weak atheism/weak agnosticism, and I get more constructive questions. It has nothing to do with fear of ostracism (you get plenty of that as an avowed agnostic) or out of my ignorance; it has to do with the way the words are used in the common parlance. Fate has not provided me with a lever sufficiently long to move the English language.

Godless Geek said...

Fate has not provided me with a lever sufficiently long to move the English language.

I think that is something we can all agree on.

Really in my mind, discussions of what to call ourselves are pretty much moot (though they can be fun and insightful). In the long run, it's not going to change how people perceive us, and could backfire in the long run if people view it as an attempt to hide who we are. The ultimate goal here is acceptance for who we are rather than ostracization for what we don't believe.

Yosei said...

"We both have so many thoughts, questions, etc. and would love someone to talk to."

Welcome to Debunking Christianity. =) exchristian.net also helps. Remember, the internet is your friend.

Juno Walker said...

I struggle with this too. I have no problem telling people that I am an "atheist", and I say it with particular relish when talking with a fundamentalist Christian.

I like the term "freethinker", but Lowder makes a good point in his paper. I would probably prefer to say that I "have a naturalistic worldview", though that is not a concise blanket term.

I do call myself a "Secular Humanist" but most people simply ask me what that means.

Usually when I tell people that I'm an atheist I always use that famous quote by I-can't-remember-his-name: "I contend that we are both atheists; I just believe in one less god than you." And then I'll mention Sam Harris' quote in Letter to a Christian Nation that about how Christians think that Muslim beliefs are so obviously false; and I'll point out that that's how I feel about their Christian beliefs.

I've used the term "Bright", but that is usually cause for more confusion.

It's definitely open to debate...

Juno

adam s said...

gnosticism and agnosticism are both related to religious concepts. If anyone knows the history of the terms they will find that being labeled an agnostic is a very appropriate label to put upon that person lack of religious beliefs. It is easy to split hairs here, but I personnaly see nothing offensive in deeming oneself to be either an atheist (considering the masses consider themselves theists) and an agnostic (as most claim to have some spiritual knowledge). Christian; now there is a perjorative.

elwedriddsche said...

To repeat what I said over at Richard Carrier's blog: I prefer to call myself an apatheist or an apathetic agnostic atheist. I don't believe, I don't know, I don't care.

What label I use or accept depends on the context. On religious forums, atheist suits me just fine...

vjack said...

I think that a person who provides something other than an affirmative answer to the question "Do you believe in any sort of god or gods?" is by definition an atheist. This person does not accept the theistic belief claim, making him/her an atheist. From this perspective, an agnostic is simply an atheist who doesn't like the atheist label.

Anonymous said...

diminutive minds at work

The only thing you expose is your lack of faith, and your combined strengths is fragile at best, plus the fruitlessness of your reasoning is entertainment for the impaired, and I might add your collective intelligentsia is only applicable if your digging a hole, the reason, your misinterpretation and inability to sense the spirit, and this is proof that your play ground is full of sand, but your greater problem is a reflection of your teachers, they had not the spirit of GOD, hence there lack, has become yours, and this is due to the fact that your mother, was nothing more than a incubator for the spiritualy crippled, but lets not place all the blame on dear old mom, the ditch was there before she arrived, conclusion this site is a magnet for clones, and you call yourselves free thinkers, now I’m entertained! I’ll have to visit you tadpoles more often oooops, sorry for the compliment I meant ameba, LOL, now that’s funny.

Matthew said...

Personally,

I like to call myself both a philosphical naturalist and an atheist. However, I find that most atheists define atheism as a "lack of belief in God". This is the position taken by atheists such as Dan Barker. My problem with this is if atheism is properly defined as a "lack of belief in God" then what is "disbelief in God"?

To illustrate this problem, consider the difference between nonbelief and disbelief. Nonbelief is where you lack belief that something is true based on a lack of evidence. You hold that a given concept/hypothesis/statement is unproven (and, perhaps, unprovable). You simply do not have enough evidence to support an idea or to refute an idea.

Disbelief, on the other hand, is the belief that a certain statement is not or that a given hypothesis is not true because there is evidence refuting it. If someone disbelieves that, say, the Leprechaun King exists, that is because the disbeliever thinks that there is evidence refuting the existence of this "Leprechaun King" whereas a nonbeliever wouild simply lack belief that the "Leprechaun King" exists due to a lack of evidence to decide either way.

If an atheist is simply someone who lacks belief that a god of some sort exists because there is a lack of evidence to either support or refute the existence of a divine being such as the Christian God, than what shall we call disbelievers.

It's not that I lack belief in divine beings based on a lack of evidence. Such a position admits, hypothetically, that there could exist some evidence that I am, for the time being, ignorant of and that I could always conclude later that a divine being or beings exist when I encounter such evidence, thereby curing my hypothetical ignorance.

Rather, the fact of the matter is that I disbelieve that divine beings exist. I disbelieve that divine beings exist because I believe that the evidence from science, philosophy, and history that I have studied so far is indicative that no divine beings exist whatsoever. What is the appropriate label for a disbeliever if not "atheist"?

Matthew

Anonymous said...

INFIDEL!

Shygetz said...

From this perspective, an agnostic is simply an atheist who doesn't like the atheist label.

Yes, and from the perspective that "atheist" means someone who likes Wagnerian opera, an operatic is simply and atheist who doesn't like the atheist label. From the perspective of the study of philosophy, that is not the definition of atheist and agnostic. From the perspective of the common parlance, that is not the definition of atheist and agnostic. If you want to use your own vocabulary, it's a free country (at least, I think it is), but it's not a good way to engender communication with your fellow man.

What is the appropriate label for a disbeliever if not "atheist"?

The proper term is strong atheist. In the common use, that is what most people think "atheist" means. Perhaps a term like "antitheist" would be better, but if you try it people would probably look at you funny.

Anonymous said...

What is the appropriate label for a disbeliever if not "atheist"?

Infidel!

heissailing said...

I myself have no problem with the term 'atheist', even though I am not one. As far as freethinkers who are deists, I think that is entirely possible. There are many Christians for instance who are deemed heretical because of their own sincere and peculiar interpretations of scripture. Martin Luther and John Calvin are the two most obvious examples that pop into my mind. Whether you believe their brand of theology or not (and I anticipate most on this board do not), it must be admitted that they were brilliant, bold and courages men of their time, who definitely 'thought outside the box'. Can theistic freethinkers exist today? I concede that in today's day and age, it is probably more difficult to be a free and independent thinker and still believe in the supernatural

Anonymous said...

A very interesting and thought provoking discussion here... one that I have been 'seeking' to help enable me to assign a label to myself (how dangerous could THAT be??!). A label that I have come to 'accept' I found iterated in a book by retired Episcopal Bishop John Spong... "Non-agressive Atheist"... (his book: "Why Christianity Must Change or Die")

I have used the label "Agnostic" in discussions in our adult discussion group at our Methodist Church, and was received with a great deal of openness and support... there was no attempt to sway me from that expressed view or to 'proselytize' toward me...

I've been lurking here for quite some time (along with forays onto 'exchristian.net', etc.) The pastor of the UMC my family and I attend says that I'm a "seeker" and am on a journey of discovery to find our who I am and what I CAN accept and believe FOR MYSELF... and that it's OK. Gotta appreciate that in him... He told me (in confidence) that he entered the ministry more as a way to enhance his involvement in societal and social agendas of the improvement of the human condition (Habitat for Humanity, support for disaster relief, asstance for victims of spousal and child abuse, etc.) rather than a having a 'religious agenda'. Call him a religious hypocrite, but he's working from within to help change and reform the system.

Thanks for listening.

Craig

Mark Plus said...

People don't have trouble using other not-this or not-that terms, like "in-nocence" (from Latin meaning "not-hurtful") and "in-dependence." Could you imagine complaining to Thomas Jefferson for defending a "negative" position called "independence"? Or to a jury for finding someone on trial "innocent"?

So why should that objection apply to terms like atheism and agnosticism?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

By now it's not surprising that I come at this from a different angle. (Or that I'll take a long time explaining what I mean. My favorite teacher -- from 45 years ago -- had a slogan, "Be precise, concise, and accurate." I've always insisted 'two out of three ain't bad.')

I am both an agnostic and an atheist. I make a distinction between a 'deistic God' (i.e, a 'Creator') and a 'theistic' God (i.e. one which has in some way interreacted with humanity, who has communicated with us.)

As for a deistic God, there are three main possibilities:
a) the Universe is self-existent,
b) the Universe was created by 'someone' who is himself self-existent,
or c) (the 'demiurge' hypothesis) the Universe was created by a non-self existent being who was itself, directly or at some remove, created by a self-existent being.

SOMETHING has to be self-existent. That's a logical necessity. Occam's razor would argue for "a", but it is not an infallible guide.
However, I would argue that it is neither -- currently -- possible to distinguish between these possibilities, nor is there the slightest practical difference between them. (The only way it would be relevant would be if there is a way of demonstrating that a 'deistic God' is also a 'theistic one,' AND that this theistic one has in any way interreacted with humanity or attempted to communicate with humanity at 'this point in time.')

(There are other minor possibilities, solipsism, -- not logically disprovable -- or seeing Creation as a joint effort (I like the idea of Slartibardfarst creating or designing the fjords, I admit it), etc., but they can usually be reduced to b or c above.)
Therefore, I have to be technically agnostic here.

As for accepting the idea of a theistic God, here I am an atheist. But I'll explain this in a separate comment. (I will also be offering a somewhat edited version of these two comments as a stand alone post to AADVARCHEOLOGY, the blog that currently publishes most of my writings. If it is accepted, I'll give a cross-reference later.)

elwedriddsche said...

mark plus,

"So why should that objection apply to terms like atheism and agnosticism?"

It should be obvious that there is no universally accepted definition, but it's mainly Christian apologists who engage in polemics about the definition of atheism. The definition used by most atheists places the burden of proof squarely on the apologists and their frustration about getting one proof after the other dismantled and so-called evidence dismissed is palpable. Another polemic tool they use is stick a label on a person, insist on their strawman definition, and fallaciously conclude that this is what that person [i]must[/i] believe.

My basic take is that the definition of atheism depends on the definition of theism. If it comes to a definitional debate, I prefer to let them do the heavy lifting and define 'god' first. Since I've yet to encounter a definition I consider coherent, meaningful, and that leads to a falsifiable test for godhood, philosophically I couldn't care less about what atheism is supposed to be or how I should self-identify myself.

heissailing said...

Craig said -
A very interesting and thought provoking discussion here... one that I have been 'seeking' to help enable me to assign a label to myself (how dangerous could THAT be??!). A label that I have come to 'accept' I found iterated in a book by retired Episcopal Bishop John Spong... "Non-agressive Atheist"... (his book: "Why Christianity Must Change or Die")

I have used the label "Agnostic" in discussions in our adult discussion group at our Methodist Church, and was received with a great deal of openness and support... there was no attempt to sway me from that expressed view or to 'proselytize' toward me...

Craig - your Methodist church and minister sound very liberal - a good thing..! Tell your minister that he is in good company, along with Albert Schwietzer and others. I was leading a home bible study, a small group from our fundamentalist baptist church. After having serious doubts about the veracity of what I was teaching, I told my small group to chill for a couple of weeks while I sort things out with my beliefs. I am very scared to 'come out of the closet' and give myself a new title. My church would not be as accepting as yours. I guess 'seeker' is not a bad title for someone like me, in a transition period, to have.

By the way, I am enjoying this website, for the most part. Take care.

Anonymous said...

>“This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.

For men shall be lovers of their own selves,

lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;

from such turn away”<

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

As for a theistic God, I have to deny the existence of one, at least of one who has already communicated with humanity. There are literally hundreds of claimants for the title, either 'stand-alone' monotheistic Gods, or pantheons. For the sake of simplicity, let's ignore the pantheons and Ahura Mazda, and limit the discussion to the "Abrahamic God" in its prime manifestations:
The Jewish YHWH;
The Christian 3-in-1 claimant, the Holy Trinity;
and the Islamic Allah. (If anyone wants to argue for the existence of other gods -- unlikely here -- I'll discuss them as well, if I can. Many of my points can be applied to them as well.)

Obviously, the question of their existence is, in fact, a discussion of the evidence that purports to prove this existence. This is mainly of three kinds:
a) miracles: true suspensions of the 'laws of nature' that could only be brought about by a God;
b) direct, 'mystical' experience: direct communication between a God -- or a messenger from a God -- and an individual
c) scripture: literature purporting to have been written by, dictated by, or 'inspired' -- in the strict sense -- by a God.

(Before I start, I should mention the 'hidden assumption' that all religions must make; that God not only exists but is honest -- to use the Catholic formula "God, who can neither deceive nor be deceived." If this isn't true, why pay the slightest bit of attention to what he says, supposing he, in fact, did say it? We might find ourselves before the Holy Throne, and hear Divine Laughter at our gullibility.

(But a corollary to this is that if a God has a message, it has to be a unitary one. He may have made a series of revelations, with one superceding or correcting the next, but at any given time only one can be operative.)

a) Miracles:The last statement comes into play here. Of course, I'd go along with the usual comments that miracles don't seem to happen now, where they can be checked, and that some of the claimed miracles in the past were so dramatic that, if they happened, somebody other than believers would have noticed.
But there's another problem. Most believers would argue that God works miracles not just to say "Hi, I'm here!" but to attest to the truth of a (their) religion.
But, if you think about it, any irrefutable miracle would not just confirm the truth of the particular religion it 'backed' but would equally DISPROVE all the others.
ONE provably miraculous cure at Lourdes puts all of Islam, Mormonism, Judaism, and even Protestantism into history's dumpster. One miraculous cure by a (Protestant) faith healer -- unless you can argue that God could say 'eh, he's got it almost right, let's give him a favor for trying' -- invalidate not just Catholicism, but any group that has theological differences with that preacher. Given that, true miracles have got to be rare occurrences, and the groups who claim them have to be, in almost every case, wrong. (I would insist that they all are, of course.)

Even the Torah shows YHWH not violating natural laws -- as they were then understood, not as we see them today -- to create his effects. He does not snap his fingers to wipe out all of humanity but Noah and family, he uses a flood. He does not 'speak the word' to part the Red Sea, but causes a wind to spring up to do it. Even the changing of the staffs into snakes is shown to be not miraculous, since the Egyptian magicians do the same thing.
So miracles are a powerful proof of God's existence, except that they don't seem to happen often, or provably.

b) (Yes, I'll get shorter for the next sections.) Direct mystical 'communication' with God. There are millions of supposed examples of this, from the Christian who claims in some way to perceive the presence of God in his daily life, to the saint and the serial killer, both of whom may claim to have heard the voice of God talking to him. Unfortunately, they are useless as proof, for anyone but the hearer. They are not perceptible by an outsider, God does not let his voice be recorded, his appearence be placed on film or tape. And to the outsider, the number of them makes them suspect. The Christian would reject the serial killer's "I heard God tell me to kill ..." and the Muslim's claim that God dictated the Qur'an equally with a kabbalist's mystical experience. Does the appearence of a Saint to three young peoples at Fatima convince a Protestant or a Muslim? Hardly, even though they might freely concede the sincerity of the belief the young people expressed in their vision. And how could a Muslim, even a sufi who accepts mysticism, accept that the Allah who claimed Jesus as a prophet but denied the concepts of Christianity, accept a Christian claiming the daily presence of a Divine Christ when they deny Christ's divinity?
And again, the limitation of the necessity of a God's honesty intrudes. If two Christians differ on adult Baptism, and it is an important issue and an important part of God's plan, both may claim the 'presence of Christ,' but at least one must be deluded, or the dispute is irrelevant. If pre-millenialism or post-millenialism matters, God cannot truly be present for the holders of the 'wrong view,' no matter how much they perceive Him. (Or else the true God is a cosmic jokester, putting humanity through hoops, barring them from masturbation, sending them on Hajj, or making them wear yarmulkes, priestly robes, or the hijab and niqab just for His own enjoyment, not to be trusted in his offer of an afterlife.)

Which brings us to Scripture, the 'Word of God written down.' We cannot produce an authentic miracle, we cannot distinguish an authentic 'personal experience of God' from a sincere delusion or a schizophrenic episode, but we have these books from the mouth, the messenger, or the inspiration of God himself.
But can they be? Any believer must accept that His message was important to God, that he felt that mankind needed to hear it. I've spoken elsewhere of the absurdity of God not inspiring printing before he sent his words -- or is God so ignorant of the sloppiness of man that he did not know the errors and 'improvements' the copyists would make. Or imagine an Allah, angry that the Jews and Christians have misunderstood his words, writing them in Arabic -- a language so imprecise that I have read five translations, and every one of them disagrees on the meaning of the words -- in important matters. (And I have asked Arabic-speaking Internet friends, bilingual, and they can not help me.)
An all-knowing God, yes, might tell stories in the concepts his hearers could understand, using the scientific concepts then believed. But could a God produce the instructions on mildew that -- according to the Scriptures, he 'spake to Moses' or allow himself to be misquoted that badly in his Holy Word? Could a God allow His Word to contain the marvelous hypocrisy of Judah in the story of Tamar, and condemn Judah not for this, but for failing to allow his youngest son to marry the woman?
Could, for that matter, God lead a Joseph Smith to the bronze tablets, send an angel to translate them, and pick an angel with such limited language skills.
If the message was important, how easy it would have been to include simple, unambiguous statements that could later be proved, but that would not have been beyond his hearers. "The world is round." "There is a distant land, inhabited by people, that man will someday discover when they sail far enough, a land of forests, etc." Any simple scientific statement, as simple as the principle of Archimedes, that would have 'given witness to the truth.'
Or historical evidence. A hieroglytphic report of the Great Plagues. (Surely someone outside of Egypt might have known of the drowning of Pharaoh's Army, if only because it would have been a great time to invade.)
Or why not some letter from a traveler to Jerusalem who might have mentioned, without believing the claim, this preacher who had gathered twelve disciples and claimed to be divine and was crucified.
If Apostles spoke to a crowd and all heard them in their own language, would not some returner, unconvinced have spread the story so somehow it got into a preserved document.

No, there is no evidence of a Theistic God communicating with mankind. Is it credible that a God would not have provided such evidence. "Bleesed are they who have not seen but have believed"? Yes, but so many people have believed so many things? Are the believers in error and truth equally blessed?
If God existed, he would have made his message, his appearances, his miracles plain. He did not. I cannot believe in this great a contradiction.

I am an atheist. How can I not be?

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

For those who got lost in my excessive verbiage and want to follow my arguments, a substantially edited version of my last two comments has been posted at Martin Rundkvist's blog
http://scienceblogs.com/aardvarchaeology/2007/02/jim_benton_on_the_atheist_agno.php
The editing was by Martin, a truly excellent editor who can even make my writing readable. If my comments spurred any interest at all, I hope you will check them out in this version.
(I expect it will also be submitted for this Sunday's Carnival of the Godless and may be viewable there.)

Shygetz said...

SOMETHING has to be self-existent. That's a logical necessity.

I'm not sure I agree with that. While we don't know what went on at the singularity, we do know that the laws of physics didn't work as they do here. While I think it is likely that something is self-existent, I don't think it is a logical necessity; in an infinite probabilistic universe, everything that can happen will happen. If there is no Law of Conservation of Matter/Energy, then there is no need for a self-existent reference.

Prup (aka Jim Benton) said...

Shygetz:
Maybe if I had used the word 'uncreated' rather than 'self-existent' the problem would have been clearer. Without assuming that SOMETHING was uncreated, sooner or later you reach the point where you are arguing the equivalent of BOTH
A created B
AND
B created A.
(I suppose that you COULD argue that the Universe could evolve a consciousness that could go back in time and create the Universe so it could evolve a Universal consciousness so it could go back in time..., but I don't see this as an improvement.)
Unless you argue that the laws of logic are also broken down so that circular reasoning is permissible, you have to accept that SOMETHING is uncreated, or self-existent. Of course, I'd argue that the something is the Universe itself.

Shygetz said...

If you say "uncreated", then I think you stand on much firmer ground. Although the possibility you pointed out still stands (that the "uncreated" thing could have created itself), you could make the argument that something creating itself is still "uncreated" in the logical sense, as it did not rely upon an outside agent to invoke its existence.